“What Power do we have over assailants today?”: Violence and Jewish Courts in High Medieval Europe
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This study considers violent conflicts and their resolutions within the Jewish communities of Northern France and Germany during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Based primarily on Jewish legal sources, it places Jewish courts and the conflicts they mediated in the context of contemporaneous European institutions, and recognizes that Jews, as Europeans, frequently used violence as a means to achieve their ends. Through the application of the methods of legal anthropology and reception history to Jewish legal sources, especially responsa, I argue that Jewish courts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in north and central Europe functioned primarily as mediators between parties who came to them by choice, rather than as coercive institutions of a Jewish community that functioned as a quasi-state. They were frequently informal bodies, convened for the purpose of resolving a particular dispute, and even when they were standing bodies they rarely had the power to compel obedience.________________ This dissertation shows that the Jews of Northern France and Germany routinely engaged in activities that flouted rabbinic norms and took part in violent disputes with each other. It also recognizes that Jewish courts in Europe resembled other European courts. How-ever, they were in a losing competition with non- Jewish courts. Jewish communities were subject to territorial authorities, which were increasingly imposing their power within their territories throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and creating structures through which that power could be exercised.
Doctoral dissertation, Ph.D. (Jewish Studies), Bernard Revel Graduate School. Opt-Out: For access, please contact: email@example.com